A detained prominent Vietnamese dissident lawyer has vowed to defend himself to the hilt against tax evasion charges leveled by the state during his trial scheduled next week, accusing the one-party Communist government of staging a campaign to victimize its opponents.
Le Quoc Quan, who is also a blogger, said in a note penned from his prison cell that he had paid up his taxes and was "totally innocent" of the tax evasion charges, which rights groups say are frequently used by the authorities to jail and silence government critics.
If convicted, Quan, detained since December 2012 pending his trial, risks three years in prison and a heavy fine.
Addressing his note to "compatriots inside and outside Vietnam," Quan said, "I would like to affirm that I am totally innocent."
"I love my country by doing concrete things as paying taxes—though that is just a stupid deed given the current situation of corruption and budget management practices. I'm just a victim of political decisions and actions," he said in the note, a copy of which was given to RFA's Vietnamese Service.
"To live up to the truth and the love of my compatriots, I pledge that I will protect my honesty and my ideals no matter in what circumstances, especially in the 'public' court session on July 9, 2013."
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch had accused the Vietnamese authorities of pursuing a political vendetta against Quan for several years and said that the tax evasion charges came “out of nowhere.”
According to the official Tuoi Tre news agency, investigators say Quan directed his staff to create fake consulting contracts with economic experts in a bid to raise the company’s operational costs and pay less corporate income taxes.
The report said that Quan had dodged some 437.5 million dong (U.S. $21,000) in taxes.
Quan’s brother, Le Dinh Quan, was also arrested in October last year for tax evasion and is currently detained in Hoa Lo Prison No. 3.
Refused access to court documents
Another brother, Le Quoc Quyet. told RFA’s Vietnamese Service recently that Quan's attorneys have been refused access to court documents ahead of his trial, saying they had experienced frequent standoffs with the authorities over legal documents since his case was transferred to the Hanoi People’s Court in April.
“The lawyers have faced constant obstruction when trying to access case documents,” Quyet said, adding that the defense had been notified less than a month ago by the court of his brother’s July 9 trial date.
“Lawyer Tran Thu Nam was only given a chance to make copies of the whole set of documents on June 13,” he said.
According to Quyet, the authorities should have tried Quan on the tax charges within one and a half months after the case was transferred to the courts in early April.
“The case documents have been at court for more than two months, and the trial will take place on July 9, exactly three months after they were submitted,” he said.
Quyet said that his family had submitted several petitions, complaints and requests on behalf of Quan, who was arrested as he brought his children to school in Hanoi, but that none of them had received an official response in writing.
Quyet said that his brother was in good health, despite holding two separate hunger strikes since his detention last year.
Ahead of Quan’s trial, a group of 12 rights groups and NGOs sent an open letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, asking him to pressure Vietnam on Quan’s release.
The NGOs highlighted Quan’s arbitrary detention “due to having exercised his right to freedom of expression, his right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, as well as his activities as a human rights defender.”
Quan, a Catholic in the majority Buddhist nation, was jailed for three months in 2007 for participating in "activities to overthrow the people's government," but he was released following protests from the United States.
In August last year, Quan was severely beaten by police in an attack which prompted Human Rights Watch to call for a full investigation.
In addition to writing his blogs, Quan was heavily involved in a string of anti-China demonstrations last year over Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Long. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.